Monthly Archives: May 2014

Good Eatin’: Cooking With Flowers

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

My trip to Borough Market was for the purpose of procuring things for Eurovision dinner. It also gave me the chance to cook with something I had not expected to see:

Food: Courgette Blossom

This is something I know won’t be around during the whole year and, as such, I bought them immediately and proceeded to find a way to cook them afterwards. Apparently I have male flowers here (I asked) and sold by the friendly people at Wild Country Organics. I may buy some herbs from them when I’m next at the market.

I found the following recipe on The Kitchn (I may have made a slight alteration so it was a little less in fat):

Ingredients (serves 3-4):

    • 3/4 cup cornflour
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp black pepper
    • 1/4 cup plain flour
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1/2 cup water
    • 1 egg, beaten
    • 10-15 squash blossoms
    • 1/2 cup ricotta
    • 1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise
    • 1 tsp dried oregano
    • 1 tbsp coarse  breadcrumbs
    • Vegetable oil

To make the batter combine the first five ingredients together followed by the egg and water. Whisk until it’s smooth and then chill. I did this for half an hour.

Then make the filling by mixing the cheese, mayonnaise, oregano and breadcrumbs until fully combined.

To prepare the blossoms you want to gently remove the pistil. The best way to to this is by hand by separating the pettles, insert two fingers then twist and pull to remove the pistil. Then you’ll want to add the stuffing with the smallest spoon you can find. I used a 1/2 tsp measure since you don’t want to tear the delicate petals. Twist the opening in the flower shut (the filling is a surprisingly good glue).

In a large frying pan (I use a wok) add enough oil so you have nice 1-2 cm deep layer. Heat this until it smokes then fry the blossoms so it is golden and crispy.

These are so tasty that they need nothing extra. I am a big fan of courgette fries and these tasted like tender courgette fries with a herby cheese filling. There were three of us and five blossoms… it took a  while to decide what to do. I will have to buy another bag before they fall out of season again.

So yes, this was a nice preamble to a meal which included a number of other delicious Borough Market buys:

Food: Chorizo Iberico de Bellota

The book describes free-range black-footed pigs happily scoffing on cork trees and acorns before being turned into delicious chorizo. This isn’t the way I would like to go but it would be better than being a battery chicken. Not as picante as other chorizos I have had but with a deep smokey taste and a pleasant feeling as the fat begins to melt on your tongue this is a chorizo too special to be cooked with and was enjoyed at room temperature by itself.

Food: Turkish Delight

Not content with just the regular rose-flavoured here there is a mix or rose, pistachio, cinnamon and a rather delicious vanilla-marshmallow sold by The Turkish Deli. Pleasingly sweet, firm and sticky. I have to say the the vanilla-marshmallow one (the yellow one in the picture) may be the best Turkish delight I have ever had. And my nan was a huge fan so I know my Turkish delight.

Food: Melton Mowbray Pork Pie

Okay, this is from Waitrose (thanks mum) but it was eaten along with the chorizo so it’s only fair to include it here. As a kid I never liked the pastry and would just eat the post centre discarding its brown (and lardy, sadly) casing. Now I am older I just take a bite of every bit and enjoy it. In a country that really loves its pies I guess it is only fair that this was included on the food list as a representative.

Progress: 10/500

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Good Eatin’: A Trip To Borough Market

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

There is nothing like a trip to Borough Market. The smell of all the different cuisines coming together, the throngs of people, the vibrant colours of the fruit and vegetable stalls. It is the perfect place to find some of the more unusual items on the food list… but first a spot of breakfast.

Food: Sauerkraut

Nothing  is quite like the taste of a proper German frankfurter topped with mustard and sauerkraut. The sourness and slight sweetness of the pickled cabbage works well with the mild heat of the mustard. This particular sauerkraut also had the slight herby edge that comes from the use of juniper berries. However, the saltiness left me parched, luckily there are a number of juice stands nearby.

Food: Blood Orange

I had never tasted blood orange before but I have to say that it was different than I had expected. There is a strong citrus taste as you would expect from an orange but there was something else as well. It was not as sour as I had expected, in fact there was a note of berry-like sweetness. The internet likens it to a raspberry and I am inclined to agree with them since it did have the tartness.

After some food and drink I made a number of purchases which included two rather exotic and seasonal fruit: Rambutan and Mangosteen (which to me sound like characters from Hamlet).

Food: Rambutan

This is a fruit that is closely related to the lychee; something you can tell as you cut it open and the smell beneath the hairy shell hits you. Due to the distance this little fruit has had to travel to get to my chopping board here it’s little wonder that the outside has begun to dry out. The fruit itself tasted very much like a lychee but one this that I noticed was the taste of the seed; something of a bitter white chocolate. Very odd.

Food: Mangosteen

Known to some as the “Queen of Fruit” due to a, probably apocryphal, story of Queen Victoria offering £100 to someone who could bring her back an intact mangosteen this fruit is bloody expensive at £1.95 for something the size of a satsuma.  The taste was refreshing and, in my opinion, began having an undercurrent of banana and then the longer it was on your tongue that beginning taste was replaced with a sweeter one.

All in all, a successful trip to Borough Market.

Progress: 6/500

Let’s Get Literal: Macbeth

I previously asked for an idea of what I should read next and got the answer of Macbeth. So armed with my Kindle I am once again getting acquainted with the written word.

List Item: Read the complete works of Shakespeare
Progress: 6/37

With Shakespeare I know that it is better to watch them than to read them. Luckily for Macbeth I have a visual touchstone in the form of the BBC’s ShakespeaRe-Told series which saw James McAvoy take on the title role with Keeley Hawes as Lady Macbeth. This version changed the setting to a owner of a restaurant rather than the kingship of Scotland… but the premise is the same I guess.macbethretold

Thanks to this TV Movie and Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett (and the fact that this play is the propagator of a number of tropes) everything you read feels familiar. The thing is, in terms of characters, I did not find any of the male leads to be that interesting. It is interesting in reading it just how influenced they are by the six women of the play: Lady Macbeth, Lady Macduff, Hecate and, of course, the Three Witches. The best and most vivid scenes of the entire play, for me anyway, centre around women. First there is the famous scene of a sleepwalking Lady Macbeth who, being so full of guilt, is cursing the spots of blood she envisages on her hands. Then there is the scene where Macbeth receives further prophecies through visions of a disembodied head, blood-covered child and a child with a crown. It’s bizarre, creepy and amazing.

macbethwitches
The thing is that one of the reasons I am trying to make my way through the plays of Shakespeare is to make it to the lesser known ones. Macbeth, Othello and Midsummer Nights Dream are all very well known stories… but I am looking forward to the likes of Timon of Athens and Pericles, Prince of Tyre since I have no idea what they are about.

Music Monday: A Love Supreme by John Coltrane

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 14/250

a-love-supremeTitle: A Love Supreme
Artist: John Coltrane
Year: 1965
Position: #72 (Previously: #61)

Now that I am jobbed I won’t be able to do two albums a week so I am going to try and still do one a week, but listening to Nicole Atkins and EMA on repeat isn’t really helping this.

One thing that only just dawned on me is that this is the first jazz album that I have looked at for this blog. I know some may count Frank Sinatra here but this is different.

John Coltrane is one of the few names in jazz that I had actually heard of, although it’s a sad fact that this is now my jazz knowledge completely used up and anyone I now encounter will be greeted with a resounding ‘who the hell are you?’ (apart from Miles Davis). Either way, it is nice to know that my knowledge of him has been rewarded with a thoroughly good jazz album. Coltrane knows how to balance the complexity of a piece so that it’s not completely overwhelming whilst not making it too sparse so as to induce a coma. He wants to create a mood and he will find the perfect combination of instruments to make this a reality. This is the truest on ‘Psalm‘, the closer and my favourite track on the album, is backed with a smattering of cymbals and ends on the rolling of some great drum.

A lot of these classic jazz albums tend to have some running theme, or a message that they are trying to send such as Duke Elliington tried to in ‘Black and Tan Fantasy‘. This is something I only because a teacher of mine tried to explain this to me a few years back in a music appreciation class where he actually sat on the floor and mimicked someone rowing a boat. Do I remember why? No. Was it funny? Kinda, maybe a better word to describe is absurd. This is something that I got from this album, both from the musical content and the names of the tracks. After all they all have some pretty big names such as ‘Acknowledgement’, ‘Resolution’, ‘Pursuance’ and ‘Psalm’ so there is probably some hidden meaning linked in with the title. I didn’t look it up as I preferred to make my own interpretations but I got something possibly spiritual and an attempt to explain the journey someone, maybe Coltrane, took as a means to truly find themselves. Whether this is true or not, it is my interpretation.

The sheer fact that an instrumental jazz album was able to reach out to me is a very new thing for me. The arrangements are brilliant and at just over half an hour this is the perfect length for this genre of album so that it never actually feels stale and that 5 play-throughs later you are still enjoying the subtle nuances that jazz really is all about. Definitely an album for the iPod.

Around The World In 100 Films – Russia

100WorldFilms - RussiaList Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 28/100

The films of the former Soviet Union were always going to cause some trouble if I were to watch one for this list. It is true that since the split Russia has made a number of successful films but none really match their output before the end of the Cold War.

I have wanted to see The Cranes Are Flying for years but it is one of those films I never managed to get around to watch. I know that the director of the film was born in modern day Georgia but apparently this film was the subject of discussion when the Russian Guild of Film Critics were producing a list of the Best Russian Films from 1908-1957 and whilst some films were removed and assigned elsewhere this remained in place.

thecranesareflyingCountry: Soviet Union (since assigned to Russia)
Title: Летят журавли (The Cranes Are Flying)
Director: Mikhail Kalatozov
Year: 1957

I am a serial IMDB rater. I have rated every feature length film, miniseries and short film that I have ever seen. Of the nearly 1500 features I have seen only 17 have gotten a perfect 10 rating from me and The Cranes Are Flying is number 18.

So, what does it take for me to give a film a 9 or 10? Well, looking through the films that have attained these ratings (e.g. Sunset Boulevard, Fargo, Spirited Away, Gone With The Wind and All About My Mother) there is something that jumps out. Most of the films I really love has an exceptional performance from a central actress and The Cranes Are Flying may have the best performance I have seen in years by the beautiful Tatyana Samoylova.

The Cranes Are Flying is a film that feels like an epic despite a runtime of little over an hour and a half where we see the life of Veronika (Samoylova) as she becomes separated from Boris (the man who is basically her fiancée) she loves after he volunteers to serve on the front in World War Two. Left behind in civilian territory Veronika serves as a conduit for the film-maker to pour all the pain, loss and other psychological tortures that were experienced by the Soviet populace. It is also interesting to note the utter comempt that a major character has towards the communist system with his derision of the known slogans of meeting and exceeding quotas.

As you would expect this is not a film that sat well with the Soviet government but it captured the imaginations of the critics and audiences in both the USSR and around the world. In Veronika’s sufferings and the brave face she puts on through sheer force of will was created an incredibly well rounded and developed character which any actress would kill to have a chance to play. It truly re-opened the doors of Soviet cinema to the world after the then-recent death of Stalin.

The Cranes Are Flying is in many ways a story about how humans have an innate need to subscribe meaning to atrocity otherwise what is the point of living. This is the only thing that keeps Veronika going through the majority of the film and goes a long way to explain the final scene of the film where she smiles through despair and distributes flowers to the joyous people upon the wars end.

Aside from the outstanding central performance the thing that really stands out about this film is the extraordinary camera work. Tracking shots through war-torn streets and the victory scene in the finale serve to provide insights into the emotions felt by the populace during their brief appearances on screen. The use of a crane at opportune moments such as Veronika walking away from Mark when he confesses her love for her despite his cousin Boris being the one she is with again serves to heighten the distance between them. The best shots in this film make use of a mobile camera; a chase up a spiral staircase, the merging of two spinning images as a soldier dyes and imagines being married and the quick cuts and sped-up shots when there is a fake-out leading us to believe Veronika is about to throw herself in front of a train.

What makes this film all the more tragic, despite the subject content, was the fate of the lead actress. Forced by the Soviet government to refuse jobs outside of the USSR (which came flooding in after the film won the Palme d’Or and she secured a Special Mention at Cannes) her career just floundered. She secured roles here and there but none reached the heights of The Cranes Are Flying although she did take the lead in the 1967 adaptation of Anna Karenina.I just wonder what her career could have been like otherwise, especially after her death only a few weeks ago.

Good Eatin’: Jelly Beans

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress:
2/500

I love Jelly Beans. Correction. I LOVE Jelly Belly brand Jelly Beans. I’ve had a number of others but you really can not beat them when it comes to the best jelly beans. Sadly they can be a bit on the pricey  side but, like Hotel Chocolat, they are a bit of an indulgence.

Enter a trip to the 99p store in one town over to wait for a group of young kids to move on (yes I am aware that I am turning into Liz Lemon):

Anyway, some cursory browsing later and lo and behold I found a true rarity: Jelly Belly Belly Flops! Just like finding a pair of Timbaland boots in a pile of shoes as an outlet mall this was something very special. I, of course, had to buy a few bags and consume then I got home. Why? Because they are ruddy delicious!

Do I have a favourite flavour? Yes, I love Peach and Strawberry Jam flavour. I don’t like Watermelon flavour though, it’s gross.

Ebert’s Greats – The Searchers and Triumph of the Will

Okay, so whilst I save up to go on travels and plan future things like a wedding this bucket list blog is beginning to become a review blog. Thing is that whilst I am waiting to get enough money to make a trip to Japan things like living in another country or trying foie gras reading books, watching movies and listening to albums are a nice way to nibble away at some of these really long culture items.

As such this is the first time since opening the Roger Ebert item that I can update the numbers with two new watches.

List Item: Watch Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies”
Progress: 170/409

the-searchers-2 Title: The Searchers
Director: John Ford
Year: 1956
Country: United States

A recent metapoll of the greatest films ever released placed The Searchers as the ninth greatest film ever made. It was very well received at the time of its release with some calling it the best collaboration between John Ford and John Wayne. What stopped me from watching this film? It’s a western.

I have not seen many westerns but I either find them fascinating or I yearn to reach for the off switch. The Ox-Bow Incident? One of my favourite films. Shane? I fell asleep. Rio Bravo? Amazing performance by Dean Martin. Cimarron? Never again. Probably doesn’t help that the first western-style film I ever saw was Blazing Saddles and I am not exactly a large fan of Mel Brooks humour.

Still, the fact that I have another western to add to the list that I enjoyed means that for the first time ever the balance has shifted towards the positive opinion. Whilst I always find John Wayne interesting to watch the thing that kept me watching was the dynamic between him and Jeffrey Hunter. Also the use of Vera Myles’s lovelorn character as a device to bridge time over the five year search worked exceptionally well.

I’m going to cut this short as I think the other film is more interesting to talk about but I want to leave with this thought. Natalie Wood does not appear in this film much at all and she features on the poster credits. Yes she is a name and her character is the driving force (much like a Godot figure) but… wait I just answered my own annoyance.

triumphofthewill

Title: Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will)
Director: Leni Riefenstahl
Year: 1935
Country: Germany

It was really hard to find a screenshot for this film online without either Hitler or a swastika. I managed to find one with a decent cropping though.

Here is the thing about Triumph of the Will. It is a propaganda piece. As someone who has watched a large number of films I have seen many films that are controversial upon release due to subject matter. Birth of a Nation because of the blackface and its heroic depiction of the KKK, Irreversible because of the extensive rape scene, Salo because… well it has no morally redeeming features. This film is unusual to me since it has gained controversy since its release. The fact that it actually won prizes in countries other than Germany (most notably at the World Exhibition in Paris) shows how well Riefenstahl made this film.

There is no question of the intent. The many smiling faces of handsome German men, the enthralled crowds, the bountiful supplies of food for the workers and the hyperbolic praise of Hitler all act as ways to cement the appeal of the party within the German borders. Some of the shots that Riefenstahl uses to depict the parade scenes are breathtaking and somewhat ahead of the time; goes to show what a blank cheque to produce a propaganda film can lead to. Does make me want to see what she did with her documentary of the Olympics though.

It is rich, however, for the West to simply sideline this film as a piece of pro-Nazi propaganda since I actually recognise a number of these scenes in this film from Allied propaganda films that I have seen. A nice stroke to use German footage in the battle against them but we made Donald Duck cartoons (Der Fuehrer’s Face) as propaganda for children. Come on now.

Music Monday: Soul Of The 60s

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 13/250

Okay I know I made a bit of a deal of going more modern but one of the first blogs I made was a failed attempt at listening to the entire in the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die book and I stalled in the mid-sixties. This means I have some write-ups pre-done for a number of albums in this Top 250 list and as such they provide a nice way for me to create a buffer for when I get busy.

This post, the seventh as part of Music Monday, marks the first time I am covering two different artists. The reason being that both artists only have one entry on this list and they are (as the title suggests) soul albums from the 1960s.

James_Brown-Live_at_the_Apollo_(album_cover) Title: ‘Live’ At The Apollo
Artist: James Brown
Year: 1963
Position: #45 (Previously: #39)

Why do girls scream at musicians they love? I ask this because it is something you hear rather often when  listening to James Brown’s Live At The Apollo. I guess that the screaming of girls is just another one of those tell-tale signs that an artist has got charisma.

If Live At The Apollo were to be solely judged against other live albums I have listened to it still lies somewhere near the bottom of the pack, still some way above Ellington at Newport 1956 but doesn’t match the majesty of At Mister Kelly’s or the sheer wow-factor of Sam Cooke’s Live At The Harlem Square Club. That isn’t to say that this isn’t a good album, as it is. Ratings wise it places about the same as Sunday At The Village Vanguard which I did also enjoy.

The real highlight, aside from laughing at the reactions of the women in the audience, is the ten minute epic that is ‘Lost Someone. This is not a track to match the sheer energy of ‘Sex Machine but this is James Brown raw and unplugged. It feels that all of the funk artifice has been stripped away leaving behind this man bearing his soul to a sparse orchestration. If it wasn’t for the sheer power of his voice it would fall flat on it’s face, but in the hands of this professional it is perfectly executed. That is not to say that the energy of the closer ‘Night Train isn’t at all welcome.

In the end Live At The Apollo comes to symbolise a lot of the problems of a live recording for a lot has become lost in the process of transferring it from the performance onto vinyl and now to mp3. I am sure that if I were there in person with the magnetic personality of James Brown at the helm of this show’s ‘Night Train’ I would happily be in the snack cart buying a bag of pretzels as I enjoyed the ride of my life. However, without seeing him dancing around and without the atmosphere I am left a little bit cold which is a shame.

Otisblue

Title: Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul
Artist: Otis Redding
Year: 1965
Position: #67 (Previously: #60)

For some unknown reason I actually had it in my head that he was one of those musicians who was still alive, or at least died in the last decade, so you can appreciate my shock when I discovered that he died at the tender age of 26 about two years after Otis Blue was released. Much like Buddy Holly, Otis Redding too died in a plane crash.

In all three attempts to listen to this album I got distracted by different things. The first attempt was the theme song to The Tudors which my mum was watching in the other room, the second by the sound of the torrential rain outside. By the third attempt I had had enough and forced myself to sit down and really listen to this. Sadly though this still left me cold.

Although there is no denying that Otis Redding had talent. This album is indeed a testament to this and in fact makes me wish that there was a live album of his on this list rather than this studio album. In this era I am not doubting that these live albums would be in short supply. In this way this is a bit annoying as in the entire album I can feel this shimmer that is constantly bubbling that makes me think that wills me onwards to try more of his back catalogue, but it somehow just remains there below the surface and never truly reveals itself. I guess this shows how far I have come from condemning the first live album I encountered on this list as being absolute refuse, but it serves a point. So, why is this album on here?

Aside from the multitude of 5-star reviews and Top 100 Albums Ever placements this has received there must be some reason. To represent a talent lost tragically soon? Maybe. But I think more likely is the sheer influence that this sound has had on music today. In fact if you listen to ‘I’ve Been Loving You For Too Long’ you can hear in the nuances of his voice and in the arrangement that there is something different going on here. This is resplendent throughout the album and really culminates in the cover of ‘Satisfaction’ (not as good as the original, but still very good). So in the end, at least in my opinion, this has owned a placement for being an album placed in the stages of music’s evolution rather than sheer merit.

Listening To Your Heroes

List Item: See your favourite singer live
Progress: Completed

The identity of my ‘favourite singer’ has changed a number of times as my musical taste has developed since I first took proper notice at the age of eight. Before the music I listened to was more based on what I heard either of my parents playing, liking it and then running with it. This would go a long way to explain why a five year old boy became mildly obsessed with Enya and The Human League (thanks to my mother and father respectively).

In 1998 I started to develop my own separate taste which centred around pop (much like it does now) with my first favourite bands being B*Witched and Steps. Both of which I actually got to see before they split (and how luck was I to see both Daphne & Celeste and Atomic Kitten as supports…). I still have the programmes lying around in a box somewhere.

Anyway, neither of those bands feature in my current list of favourites. Nowhere near the Top 100 to be honest. That is a battle now played out between Bjork and Sufjan Stevens; two singers who are rather different from each other and that I am lucky to have seen. Rather than taking pictures of gigs I actually choose to enjoy them and buy the souvenir T-shirt afterwards.

So, whilst I am waiting for them both to tour again (now I have the free time to see them) I can recall the amazing times I spent with my musical heroes (Bjork and Sufjan not Steps and B*Witched).

Good Eatin’: Mooncake

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress:
1/500

So, since I made my original statement of intent to eat half of the items I have become quite a bit obsessed with this. Where normal people might read a magazine or a John Grisham novel in bed I have been reading this book.

A number of these are going to be easy items to tick off so they are going to be short. This, however, was the product of a search around Chinatown since this is usually an autumn food item. Still, I found a bakery that made miniature ones so I got them there.

Mooncake can have a number of fillings. This one that I got in Chinatown had a sweet red bean paste and it was incredibly dense. The pastry smelled great (might be because it probably contained lard) and reminded me a bit of a sweeter version of pork pie. Never EVER a bad thing.

Would I have a mooncake again? Probably not this variety, but if I can find one of the lotus bean paste ones with an egg inside I might have a slide.